You Can’t Solve Homelessness by Making It a Crime

His car is his castle. Washington Supreme Court declared that a city could not imprison a homeless person’s truck. It also ruled in August that $550 would be charged to the man for storage and towing costs. The city could not sell his truck which was his only shelter at the auction in order to repay his debts.

Justices ruled that Seattle’s practices violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive fines or fees. This was the first time a high state court applied the Excessive Fines Clause to a state since 2019, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it restricts states.

It was important not only because of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, but also because it affected the rights and freedoms of homeless persons. Court ruled that plaintiff’s truck qualifies as his homestead.

According to court opinion, Washington’s King County is home to nearly 12,000 homeless persons, of which more than 2,000 live in their cars. In cities across America, efforts have been made to address the problem of homeless people and tent campers. However, their efforts have been limited to dragging indigent persons from one location to another.

August saw the Justice Department announce that they were launching an investigation to investigate possible civil rights abuses committed by Phoenix Police Department. It will also investigate claims that Phoenix police illegally take or dispose off the personal belongings of homeless individuals.

Public camping was banned by the Miami City Commission in October. The commissioners were criticized for criminalizing homelessness and approved an amusing “adopt the homeless” program that provides support to Miamians who are interested in helping to solve the problem. Commissioner Joe Carollo stated, “If there’s as many good-hearted people as they claim there to be,” and that he expected them to “step up.”

However, cities don’t allow private charities easy access to their services. In October the town of Brookings, Oregon, decreed that churches in residential zones—meaning every church in Brookings—would be allowed to serve food to the homeless just two days a week. This restriction came in response to complaints from neighbors about the Episcopal Church. It has no shelters for homeless in the county and only the local Episcopal church offers hot meals seven days a semaine.

Safety and quality of life are legitimate concerns for cities. This can’t be done at the expense or dignity or rights of those who are homeless.